Happy Earth Day

by Steven F. Hayward

Normally I’d post this on Planet Gore, but since today is Earth Day (and also Lenin’s birthday — coincidence?), how about a rousing shout-out for environmental progress, as I document in the 14th edition of my Index of Leading Environmental Indicators. (Background: I was inspired to do this by Bill Bennett’s famous Index of Leading Cultural Indicators back in 1993; that was mostly bad news — crime rates, test scores, teen pregnancy, etc — in simple time-series charts and graphs. I knew the same treatment of environmental trends in the U.S. would show mostly good news. But as I’ve joked with Bill, his Index was about sex, drugs, and rock n roll, while mine is about polychlorinated biphenyls and sulfur dioxide. No wonder his got more media attention.)

This is perhaps my favorite tidbit from this year’s edition:

Elizabeth Rosenthal reported in the New York Times of a recent estimate from the Smithsonian Institution research in Central America suggesting that “for every acre of rain forest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics on land that was once farmed, logged or ravaged by natural disaster. . . The new forests, the scientists argue, could blunt the effects of rain forest destruction by absorbing carbon dioxide, the leading heat-trapping gas linked to global warming, one crucial role that rain forests play. They could also, to a lesser extent, provide habitat for endangered species.”  The next sentence, however, has a drearily predictable beginning: “The idea has stirred outrage among environmentalists,” not because it might be untrue, but because it might blunt support for “vigorous efforts to protect native rain forests.”

Imagine: Environmentalist outrage over potentially good news.